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Horticultural horror No. 2: A bloomin’ nightmare

Posted: Thursday, Jul 17th, 2014

(This is the second of a three-part series on horticulture. The first article appeared Sunday.)

In 1964, I lived in a townhouse in Phoenix, Arizona. At the time I was working twenty-five miles to the west and commuted across the desert daily. Our back yard was about the size of a postage stamp and surrounded by a six-foot, grape-stake fence. I decided to beautify the area with a flower garden. The last time I practiced any sort of horticultural activity was in 1948, which produced the great watermelon disaster. However, I was confident I’d learned a lot since then. (I don’t know why, I hadn’t tried planting anything.)

I dug up a four-foot square patch, and removed all the grass. Next, I put a brick border around the plot, mulched and fertilized the soil and when everything was perfect I planted a packet of assorted flower seeds. The picture on the front of the packet set my heart ablaze. I just knew that was how mine would look. The sweat flowed freely and even cramped muscles failed to dampen my inner pride at my accomplishment.

Each day, after work, I watered and inspected my little plot. My joy was boundless when at the end of a week a tiny leaf popped up right in the middle. As the days passed, more and more sprouted and I knew the pure joy of having created something good. Faithfully I watered and tended my plot and everything grew so nicely that I was thinking perhaps I’d missed my true calling. Maybe I was destined to be a farmer.

One little plant seemed to grow better than the rest and after a few days, I fancied I had a good shot at a blue ribbon in the county fair. I kept watering and feeding and tending. It grew and grew. Soon it towered over all the rest. They, in turn looked puny and stilted. My horticultural masterpiece kept growing and spreading, getting bigger and bigger. All the time, what looked like tiny yellow flowers adorning its delicate branches, seemed about to burst into full glory. I watered and tended and my enthusiasm was undiminished even when all the rest of the tiny sprouts had shriveled and died out. By now, my prize was almost to the top of the fence and spreading out to cover half the back yard. I heaped more water on it and redoubled my TLC (Tender Love and Care). All the time the yellow buds were just on the verge of opening. I spent hours admiring my creation and plucking trash and stray leaves from its lovely branches. It had to be my magic touch that produced such a glorious specimen.

There comes a time when, even the densest among us must begin to hobnob with reality. I must admit that a tiny black cloud of suspicion had taken root in the back of my mind. Just a gnawing feeling something wasn’t quite right. However, I was too deep into flora parenthood to back out now. I continued the water and feeding and soon, my flower stood two feet above the back fence. Then, my world of pride and self congratulations came crashing to the ground.

One afternoon, while riding home from work with the carpool, there was a lull in the usually boisterous conversation and I happened to look out at a desert wash. My heart stopped and I gasped and cringed, agog at what I saw. There, before my disbelieving eyes were acres of these things…. The awful truth dawned on me, I had been feeding, watering and nurturing and housing a weed! My shame was complete, my sin exposed and I’d be laughed out of the community. Friends and neighbors alike would talk of me and nod with knowing smiles. To make my humiliation even more painful, I had to buy an ax just to cut the darned thing down. By then the trunk looked like something standing in the redwood forest and the root ball left a gaping crater like a World War II Blockbuster Bomb. Any lingering thoughts of a career in horticulture were dashed on that terrible day, so long ago.

In the next episode I’ll tell you about taste buds drivin’ to the edge of endurance by anticipation and left broken and torn on the dust pile of desire. Sounds like a tag for a B-rated movie.

Bill Russell lives in Huron with his wife Norelle.

For the complete article see the 07-16-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 07-16-2014 paper.

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